Duque’s justice minister faces action over failure to respond to violence against ex-guerrillas

Colombia’s transitional justice court is weighing up whether to cite the current Justice Minister, Wilson Ruiz, with contempt of court over his failure to provide answers about the government’s approach to tackling violence against former FARC guerrillas in the peace process. The Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), which was created in the 2016 peace agreement to investigate and prosecute major human rights violations committed during decades of armed conflict, could initiate an investigation into the minister’s conduct that may result in a fine or even an arrest warrant.

According to the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia, 331 former FARC guerrillas have been murdered since entering the reincorporation process in late 2016. Faced with appalling violence, the current right-wing government of President Iván Duque has been repeatedly criticised over its lack of response to the insecurity crisis. This is despite the JEP and Colombia’s Constitutional Court having both issued orders to the government to take action earlier this year.

Criticism of the Duque government’s approach has been justified. Security mechanisms created in the peace agreement have not been properly implemented, most notably in the National Commission for Security Guarantees (CNGS) which was designed to dismantle paramilitaries and other armed groups believed to be behind much of the violence. This comes despite the UN having repeatedly called since 2018 for the CNGS to finalise a policy to achieve its aims.

The JEP’s involvement comes after a group of former FARC guerrillas petitioned it to grant them security measures in 2020, which the court complied with. Since then, it has engaged the government over the ongoing aggression. In November 2020, it summoned ministers to explain what they were doing to contain the violence. In August 2021, it ordered special security measures for former guerrillas living outside formal reincorporation zones and other steps to ensure their safe relocation to new settlements. Then in March this year, it ordered the government to activate the CNGS and raised concerns over why this had not yet happened. Meanwhile, killings of former guerrillas have continued on a regular basis.

In April, the JEP issued a series of questions to Minister Ruiz over what steps the government was taking to address threats and attacks against former guerrillas. Among the questions were what measures the government has taken to strengthen investigations and prosecutions of those behind the attacks and how does it intend to implement these adequately? However, the court has yet to receive an answer. This has led it to take action against the minister, including a motion to the Inspector General’s Office to open disciplinary proceedings. If he is ruled to have been in contempt of the JEP’s petition, he could face repercussions.

Minister Ruiz is unlikely to continue much longer in his role, as the new government of Gustavo Petro enters office on 7 August. With Petro having demonstrated far greater commitment to implementing the peace agreement and confronting the human rights crisis, there is hope that a more constructive approach to protecting those in the peace process will finally be enacted.